Breathing is Life

Everything that lives breathes in one way or another. Approximately 22,000 times per day, we take a breath in and out. Most of the time, we don’t even think about it. It was not until recently that I appreciated the task of breathing.

In the Book of Genesis, we read the story of the creation of humanity. Humanity is created last in the lineup of things being created. Before humanity, the Creator spoke everything into existence, sun, water, land, vegetation, and animals all spoken, and it was created. But humankind was unique and took a bit more work on the part of the Creator.

When it came time to create humanity, the Creator formed humankind from the dust of the earth and animated humanity with the Creator’s breath. This breath, this ruah is different from the other oxygen used during creation, for this ruah contains the spirit or the soul. Humanity was not animated; humanity was not alive until humanity could breathe.

I had the incredible opportunity to be in the delivery room when our daughter was born. Like most babies, she came out silently, and we waited for what seemed like an eternity for her to take her first breath. But, within a few seconds, she was screaming her head off. Breath is essential to life.

The Hebrew scriptures and some Christian ones look upon this first breath as the moment the soul enters the body. We read in the Psalms about how the creator “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” But there is no mention of soul or life, which are connected until we draw that first breath. Without breath, we cannot live.

I recently had an episode where I was very concerned about my breathing ability. As you may be aware, I had surgery to repair a broken ankle at the beginning of July. I remained in the hospital for a few days and then returned home. My recovery was progressing until about a week ago. I started to have back pain and shortness of breath. By the end of the day, I knew something we wrong, so I returned to the hospital.

The pain and shortness of breath had become worse. Moving from the car to the wheelchair took all my energy and several minutes to recover from my new breathing routine. After several tests, it was determined I had pulmonary emboli, blood clots in my lungs restricting my breathing. Blood clots after surgery are not as common as they used to be, but obviously, one can still be stricken by them.

I was given medicine for the pain, making breathing more manageable, and placed on oxygen. I was admitted and given a regular room where I settled in for the night. A few hours later, I was woken to be told that I was being moved to cardiac care for closer observation. Catching a breath, a deep, cleansing breath, was still very difficult. I was gasping for air. Not a pleasant experience.

A few years ago, my father died of complications of COPD. I stood by his bead side as he struggled for every breath. My father had breathing problems for most of my life, but, here at the end, it was the worst I had seen. I was helplessly lying in bed, doctors and nurses working on me and around me, and my father came to me and placed his hand on my shoulder. I started to relax just a bit.

That night, a nurse sat at my bedside, monitoring my vital signs. In the morning, the cardiac and pulmonary doctors came for a visit. I had caused both chiefs, cardiology and lung, to awaken in the middle of the night, and they had been concerned. The cardiac doctor told me, “You scared the shit out of me!” I asked how many clots I had he told me there were too many to count. I almost died.

Thanks to skilled medical staff, modern medicine, and many prayers, I am here, breathing better.

I said at the beginning that we draw an average of 22,000 breaths per day and probably give it little thought. I thought about each breath I was able to draw. I savored each one as it was keeping me alive.

So, what do we do with this breath of ours, this ruah that the Creator has given to each of us? We have a choice; we can use this breath for good, or we can use it for evil. Our breath can praise but can also condemn. We can use our breath to fight for what is right, just, and true, or we can use our breath to restrict and remove. I heard someone say once that as long as we have air in our lungs, we can make a change. We have 22,000 chances daily to make a difference, and I know I will try to make every one count.

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